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Modern Mysteries

Solving the mystery of the Tjipetir blocks

December 1, 2014 | Comment icon 7 comments



The Tjipetir blocks piled up at a plantation in Indonesia. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Tropenmuseum
Strange rectangular rubber-like blocks have been washing up on European shores for almost 100 years.
When Tracey Williams came across one of the blocks while walking her dog along a beach in Cornwall her initial reaction was one of minor curiosity, but when she decided to find out how the object had come to be there her investigation would end up leading her on a trail that spanned the better part of a century.

The blocks themselves, which are stamped with the word 'Tjipetir', appeared to have originated on an Indonesian plantation in West Java dating back to the late 19th or early 20th century.

Their appearance on beaches across the UK and Europe however represented something of a mystery. Williams was able to use Facebook to chart identical discoveries all along the east coast of the British Isles as well as in Spain, France, Denmark and even the Shetland Islands.
As it turns out the blocks had been aboard the Miyazaki Maru, an ocean liner that sunk in 1917 while on a voyage to London after it was attacked by a German submarine.

The rubber blocks ended up scattered in the ocean where they were carried by the tides and currents for decades. Some are thought to have circumnavigated the globe several times.

"They're still in good condition after all these years, which is unusual," said Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. "They're probably one of the great pieces of flotsam that people may be finding 100 years from now."

Source: BBC News | Comments (7)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Ozfactor 8 years ago
What was their purpose originally ? Would you think after decades in the ocean, they would have either eroded or become barnacle encrusted ? .. at least we know their origins, unlike the feet washing up on some poor unfortunate beach !
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer 8 years ago
Just the ocean's way or giving our garbage back to us that it can't use. Is something about how clean they look in the picture.
Comment icon #3 Posted by pallidin 8 years ago
Quote: The word Tjipetir turned out to be that of a rubber plantation in West Java, Indonesia, which operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The blocks were not strictly rubber - they are most likely gutta-percha, the gum of a tree found in the Malay Peninsula and Malaysia. It was used in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to insulate telegraph cables on the seabed. Before modern plastic began to be widely used, gutta-percha was also made into such items as golf balls, teddy bear noses, picture frames and jewelry, among many others. --------------------------------------... [More]
Comment icon #4 Posted by GreenmansGod 8 years ago
Gee, that must be good stuff to hold up that well. Looks like part of a shipwreck. Cool find, you find all kind junk washed on a shoreline besides shells.
Comment icon #5 Posted by qxcontinuum 8 years ago
Not so much biodegradable huh?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Cynical Sounds 8 years ago
kinda reminds me of that container of lego that went overboard in 97 and now keeps washing up on a beach in cornwall
Comment icon #7 Posted by Karasu 8 years ago
So the mystery has been solved. Now they need to just solve the mystery of why kids love cinnamon toast crunch.


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